Each and every day we are faced with countless decisions that set the course of what’s to come. Some of these decisions are done without us knowing, and don’t carry a lot of consequence: we grab our socks from the drawer, for example, but may not necessarily put much thought into which pair we’re going to wear. Others can carry slightly greater consequences, like choosing to have a Pop-Tart for breakfast while in plain sight of your children, who then also want some of Daddy’s ‘sprinkle toast’ and then you’re suddenly left trying to explain that having ‘sprinkle toast’ for breakfast is an unhealthy choice and that, while it is considered ok for Daddy to have this special treat once in a while, it’s not great for the development of young children, which clearly isn’t an explanation that is going to go over well with young minds, so then Dad ends up having to give his sprinkle toast over to them and instead rush out the door with a piece of dry bread in his hands as a replacement. You know, real serious cause and effect decision making.
We choose our outfits, our meals, our path to work, which podcast to listen to, what TV show to watch, whether or not to mow the lawn tonight or leave it for tomorrow, and countless other micro-transactions throughout the day. As adults we make a lot of these choices with consequence in mind, weighing out the risk of taking the road less travelled, deciding if accepting the new job offer you received will provide a better quality of life than your current position, wondering if perhaps there’s something more interesting to watch on another channel, or, more to the point: how others might perceive us by the choices we make. Within my children, I am inspired in observing that the fear of perception, for the most part, simply hasn’t started yet.
Every Friday at our children’s school is ‘Feel Good Friday’ and on that day, they are encouraged to dress however they feel and choose. It’s a day that we look forward to and plan out the night ahead, in part from excitement and in part because, if we don’t, then the morning falls apart when we can’t find a certain accessory or very specific article of clothing. They gather up their costumes, load up their school bags, and climb aboard the bus full of joy and confidence. They’re excited to show their friends, teacher, bus driver, and anyone else who will listen, that they dressed up as a doctor, a fairy or a bumble bee, not because it’s halloween, but because it’s Feel Good Friday, and that’s what makes them, well, feel good.
Our family penchant for dress up and make believe very much does not stop at these special school days; we encourage creative expression and choices in our home on a daily basis and take very concerted efforts to practice being silly and comfortable with ourselves each and every day. It is one of the things I am most proud of as a father, and being silly and playful are qualities that I hope to give up. I say this because the fear of perception, the confidence in my own decisions and actions, and trust in my own abilities are things that do not come naturally to me. In fact, they make me very uneasy.
It takes a lot of work (and patience from my loving wife) for me to reconcile my feelings of confidence and in trusting that I have done a good job, put on a good performance, or chosen the right socks. It takes great effort to step out of my comfort zone and socialize with strangers, discuss anything about myself, or share stories on my accomplishments, most notably my book. Those are things that come with a lot of anxiety and fear, and I become flustered, awkward, uncomfortable and blushed when the spotlight is on me, so I knee-jerk to quickly try and find ways to turn that light on someone else or change the topic entirely.
Case in point: on the subject of my book the most common question I am asked when people are talking about Imagine That!, is what inspired me to write the story? I wish that I had some poignant and profound backstory involving a journey through the Himalayas where I met my spirit animal who guided me through the process, but the truth is: the inspiration was me. Substitute Ava for either one of my daughters, and the old man for myself, and you have the story of my own life. As such, I wrote the book and story to serve as a reminder for myself of what I learned upon having children, which was when I stepped away from the unhealthy career-focussed path that I was on, and embraced a much more joyful existence. My health, both physical and mental improved, my overall outlook changed, I legitimately felt younger, all at result of remembering the importance of people, play, creative thought, and fun.
It’s actually quite interesting when I speak about the story with adults in contrast to children. By and large I am asked by the older generation what the message of the story really is; they don’t seem to grasp it on the first reading and want to be told what is happening within the pages. Many don’t observe the images or notice that the man in the story is changing at the result of the confident young girl’s positive influence. Children, on the other hand, have been the first to notice and call out what is happening and can explain the deeper message within both the words and pictures. It’s as though the very interpretation of the book across generations is proving it’s own point; imagine that?
Anyway, I say all of this to reach the point that: seeing my children express themselves freely is both inspiring for my own choices, and a reminder that my actions and decisions are seen in their eyes every day, and so I am aware and sensitive to make every effort to not project my fears and anxieties onto them. As an unintended result, my decisions and choices have been positively felt and influenced in my own day to day. I still have anxieties and worries, but allowing myself to be silly and vulnerable without the fear of perception has improved my overall well-being. The girls will pick my outfits from time to time, and I roll with whatever they choose, wearing whatever it is like a badge of honour. I absolutely love and encourage that they embrace ‘Feel Good Any Day’, and wear those costumes with pride because it makes them feel good, not someone else.
So, what will you choose to wear today?